Spain’s Capital Homes in On Organics to Meet 50% Recycling Target

Waste Collection Goes Organic in Madrid

As it endeavours to meet the 50% EU recycling target, Spain’s capital city of Madrid has been specifically targeting the separate collection of organic waste since 2017. In November last year, the city rolled out its brown bin collection scheme to a further eight districts, leaving just the very centre to come online later this year…

As it endeavours to meet the 50% EU recycling target, Spain’s capital city of Madrid has been specifically targeting the separate collection of organic waste since 2017. In November last year, the city rolled out its brown bin collection scheme to a further eight districts, leaving just the very centre to come online later this year…

Given the relative weight of organic wastes compared to empty recyclable packaging, such as aluminium cans and PET bottles, its separate collection seems a ‘no-brainer’ when trying to meet weight-based recycling targets. However, because of its somewhat messy and potentially odorous nature, that is not without its challenges.

Recognising not only the importance of collecting organic wastes to achieving its recycling targets, but also its wider environmental benefits, in 2017 Madrid City Council began rolling out separate collections to selected ‘pioneer’ areas of the city. The scheme was characterised by its containers with brown lids, into which the remains of food, home gardening, coffee and tea grounds, kitchen paper and dirty napkins, cork stoppers, matches and sawdust can be deposited for daily collection by the city’s ECO trucks.

Thanks to the involvement and collaboration of citizens, the results of this new selective collection were found to be very good, and in 2018 the collection was extended to 12 complete districts of the city.

Then, as of 1 November 2019, five more districts joined the selective collection scheme – Fuencarral-El Pardo, Retiro, Moratalaz, Carabanchel and Usera. A month later, Salamanca, Chamartín and Barajas were incorporated. This was the penultimate phase of the progressive implementation throughout the city that will end in 2020 when the last phase is completed with the Centro district. 

Citizen Buy-In
Together with the installation of the new brown lid containers in the streets and neighbourhood communities, Madrid City Council has launched an information and environmental education campaign aimed at informing citizens on the operation of the new collection system, how to properly separate the organic waste and the benefits of recycling.

To this end, since November a team of 16 environmental educators has been informing businesses and building supervisors in the newly added areas about the system as well as placing explanatory posters around residential areas. Similarly, information sessions have been open to the general public, resident associations and groups, and information stands have been arranged at several points in the eight districts. In January this year, educational activities aimed at infants and primary and secondary school students began across the eight new zones.

Starting this year, the city also began distributing new collection kits to the public in the form of a new model of 10 litre bin for waste separation at home, together with information materials on organic waste separation. The new bins are now lighter, use less plastic to manufacture, and are easier to use in smaller kitchens.

Anyone in Madrid passing one of the city’s booths can also request children’s and adults’ guides on how to correctly separate waste, information leaflets in different languages, an informative magazine, a graphic summary together with a fridge magnet and some fun pencil holders. A wide variety of materials are available that cater for everyone and their different needs.

The information and education programme has four key themes:

Environmental Improvement – When decomposing in the environment, organic waste forms liquids that can contaminate the subsoil and aquifers. They also give off bad odours and emit methane, a greenhouse gas that has an impact on climate change even greater than CO2. Residents are encouraged to recycle organic matter to avoid these problems while producing biogas and fertiliser.

Efficiency and Savings – The separating and recycling of organic matter will improve the selective collection of other waste fractions such as paper, glass, plastics and metals. It also results in increased efficiency in treatment and will increase the useful life of landfills because they will take longer to fill.

Positive Social Impact – The city is keen to note that the selective collection of organics creates new jobs to cover the collection routes, as well as in the biomethanisation and composting plants.

European Objectives The European Union has set a target of 50% of materials to be recovered through recycling by 2020. Currently, the city of Madrid recycles approximately 30% of the total amount of household waste it generates. The council therefore points out to its citizens that while there is a long way to go, if it succeeds with organics it can match other European cities.